11/23/2014

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High-speed rail foes seek hearing on travel times

High-speed rail foes seek hearing on travel times
This illustration shows a proposed bullet train running through the Central Valley, near Wasco. (California High-Speed Rail Authority photo)
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys representing Central Valley landowners asked a Sacramento County Superior Court judge Friday to hear arguments about whether California's high-speed trains would be able to travel as fast as voters were promised when they approved financing for the project.

Judge Michael Kenny heard arguments related to the legality of their challenge.

Attorneys arguing on behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority said the group of Kings County landowners and farmers cannot sue over plans that haven't been enacted and that the Legislature gave the rail authority discretion over business decisions.

They also noted that Kenny's previous ruling on another part of the case, in which he said the rail authority failed to comply with promises to voters about funding the project and threw out a financing plan, made the points raised Friday moot until a new plan is presented.

The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, who supports the project, has appealed that ruling and is waiting to hear whether a court will take it up.

"The agency is not threatening to violate the court's order or spend bond proceeds," said Sharon O'Grady, a deputy attorney general who is representing the rail authority in court. "All of the relief to which they're entitled has already been ordered or denied."

The landowners argue that the compromises made to bring the price tag for the package down to $68 billion — namely, using a "blended approach" in which the high-speed trains would share tracks with other rail lines in urban areas — will make it impossible for high-speed rail to comply with the travel times promised to voters in 2008.

Proposition 1A, which authorized $10 billion in bonds for high-speed rail and related projects, said passenger travel times between San Francisco and Los Angeles should not exceed 2 hours and 40 minutes, or 30 minutes between San Francisco and San Jose.

Attorney Stuart Flashman, who represents the landowners, said those times are impossible unless the high-speed trains traveled at 220 mph through urban areas, which would be unsafe.

"People would scream if you tried to go through those urban areas at 220 mph," Flashman said outside court. "Nowhere in the world do they go through urban areas at 220 mph."

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority, said the agency does not plan to run trains at high speeds in urban centers and that the agency is "committed to building a high-speed rail system that will meet the requirements of Prop. 1A."

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